Mega-mansions still big business

The rich are different from you and me. For one thing, they seem to need a lot more space to live in.

The Los Angeles Times yesterday reported that despite the dismal state of real estate these days, the building of mega-mansions is still going strong. One builder cited in the story, while overseeing the construction of a 32,000 square foot home on Sunset Blvd. in Beverly Hills, said that he knew of 20 more 20,000 square-foot-plus sized home under construction or about to break ground on the wealthy West Side.

How is this possible? Anything is possible when you don't need no stinking mortgage.Even as the real estate market sinks across the land, the luxury market is holding strong. The very wealthy want prestige locations - London, New York City, Bel-Air -- and they can usually pay cash. Interest rates don't, er, interest them, at least inasmuch as they pertain to mortgage rates. To big foreign money, the weak dollar makes prices here seem like deals. And for celebrities, titans of business and hedge-fund managers, they want what they want at any cost, and they want it big.

"Does anybody need 40,000 square feet?" asks real estate agent Stephen Shapiro of the Westside Estate Agency, quoted in the article. "No, [but] these are our current-day aristocrats and feudal leaders . . . and this is what they want."

That's good news if you're a local builder specializing in the sort of details the very rich demand. Not so good if you're a longtime local hopelessly priced out of your old neighborhood.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author most recently of "This Land is Their Land: Notes from a Divided Nation," recently excerpted an essay in the Nation, about the rich sucking up all the most beautiful locales for themselves, buying up all the land, driving housing costs up so far the real locals are forced to move away. "Boutiquing" the color right out of places like Key West, Florida and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

You might consider the West Side Los Angeles such a location.
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